How to Go From Coffee Fetcher to Corner Office Exec
There are many real-life stories of people going from the mail room to the executive suite. Though there are plenty of people who start in the simplest of jobs, through patience and hard work, they rise to the top -- sometimes quickly.
Related: 11 Ways to Earn Respect at Work
Take Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti, for example. While he may run one of the fastest growing casual dining restaurants in the United States, he began his professional career working at a hot dog cart.
The buzzy brand isn't the only company with a success story, though. Here's a true story to really inspire you. My former agency, Blue Fountain Media, grew from a website design company to a midsize digital marketing agency. The leader of the marketing department started out as an intern.
He came on board and ensured that I would trust him by proving he was reliable, loved what he did, was easy to work with and would help his teammates -- and he did it all in a very short period of time.
Ultimately, the best way to move up the professional ladder is to show people that you're up to the task, whatever that might be. When people see they can rely on you, and you get things done when you're supposed to, they will continue to lean on you more and more, making you indispensable (or darn close to it).
So, to help you go from the faithful intern or trusty mail room organizer to a corner office executive a bit faster, here are some tips that will accelerate the entire process.
Have a professional attitude at work.
Starting out your first job or internship with a positive mindset is arguably the soundest piece of advice anyone can receive, regardless of her industry or role. Research suggests that a positive mindset increases the opportunity for positive results, both professionally and personally.
Barbara Fredrickson, a social psychologist and researcher in human emotions, sees a positive mindset as important as the food we eat (really).
"I think of positive emotions as nutrients. In the same way that we need to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to be healthy, we need a variety of positive emotions in our daily experience to help us become more resourceful versions of ourselves," Fredrickson told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Radio National.
The Blue Fountain Media employee I mentioned above exhibited several qualities that made him a great professional fit:
- He would come to work early in the morning, and he would listen throughout the day to learn.
- He wouldn't gossip.
- He would read about the industry a lot.
- He was good-natured and very respectful to everyone in the office.
- He never complained and had a very professional manner.
These very basic qualities are what managers want to see in each and every employee.
Embrace the hard work, day in and day out.
There are usually two sides to this argument. One, you work "smarter" and optimize your time to get more work done using principles like the 80/20 rule, or tactics deployed through strategies used in books like Tim Ferriss's Four Hour Work Week. Two, you work more hours. There's no right answer, but it's important to realize that in both cases you're going to have to work hard.
Getting comfortable with hard work isn't an exact science, and the way in which you motivate yourself to put in the tough hours, day in and day out, is an individual preference. However, it's crucial to remind yourself that no matter what talent you have, or what talent other professionals have that you don't, hard work and consistency will always win in the long run.
Learn about the industry you're in.
Instead of wasting yet another break scrolling through Instagram or playing whatever mobile game of the moment is buzzy, spend at least 15 minutes a day actually learning new things about the industry you're in. Perhaps it's a YouTube video on social media marketing. Maybe it's an article on artificial intelligence. Regardless, if you want to grow in your career, it's on you to put in the effort to know everything you can possibly know.
Another way to learn more about your industry is to surround yourself with experts or, better yet, find a mentor. Making the effort to build relationships early in your career can have incredibly positive implications for you going forward.
Don't know anyone outside of work or in your new office that you think can help you? This is perfect opportunity to seek out a mentor or start networking like a social butterfly.
Don't shy away from promoting yourself and your work.
It's important to understand the importance of self-promotion and the role it plays in your career in the long-term. Social media is a great place to start when considering your approach to promoting your personal brand. Thanks to the reach and scope of social networks, you now have the ability to build your social profile way beyond the city or town that you're based in.
Don't be afraid to use your accomplishments and skills as leverage to promote your own brand and personality across these networks -- at the end of the day that is, 1. what they're there for, and 2. a free way for you to learn and grow rapidly within your industry.
Additionally, you should practice the little conversational techniques that are often overlooked. Replacing "oh, it's nothing special, really," with "I'm quite proud of this project actually -- we worked hard to go above and beyond what the client expected, and we achieved that," can go a long way when discussing your career highlights or experience. If you're going to put in the hard work, you should be able to promote the hard-earned results.
Share your goals with your manager.
Don't be afraid to voice your desires to your mentor or manager. After all, it's your career, and the sad truth is that sometimes you have to just ask for what you want.
However, the key here is to know when it's appropriate to ask for those things. Two weeks after you start a new job, for example, is not the time to boldly state that you'd like to score a promotion, or lock down an annual raise. Instead, take the time to let your work speak for itself. Let's let our Blue Fountain Media example do the talking.
During his internship, there were several opportunities he took advantage of that proved himself to me, but the most significant was when a lead called in, and he answered the call and pitched the company exactly as I would have pitched them. I overhead him, and immediately promoted him from an intern to a junior full-time position.
How can you achieve this? Stay put for several months and prove yourself to your new colleagues and your manager(s), then let them know that you're hoping to grow with the company, and the direction and ideal timeline you'd like to see that growth achieved. Before that, just do excellent work. Trust me, they'll notice.
Learn to manage your own time effectively.
Managing yourself is, in many ways, the first thing you have to learn before you can start making big strides in your professional career. If you're going to be late for meetings, miss deadlines or require hand-holding, you're going to struggle to rise above the status of coffee fetcher. Learning how to manage your own time is not just a professional necessity, it's a personal favor you can do yourself.
The Blue Fountain Media employee was always early for work, and spent his spare time (and even his weekends!) learning everything he could about marketing -- which, as I discussed above, is very important. Because of that, he rose very quickly within the company because he made himself extremely valuable.
There's another crucial point to make in relation to time: Be patient. As I mentioned at the start of this article, your career is going to span over the next four decades (give or take). Expecting promotions and raises to regularly arrive on your desk is a naive mistake to make. If you find yourself getting impatient or yearning for more, take a step back, remember what you've achieved to date and keep in mind where you want to be in 10, 20 or 30 years from now.
All in all, the "secret sauce" to finding accelerated growth in your career is in the quality of work you produce. Take our Blue Fountain Media employee -- within two years with the agency, he was making a six-figure salary. After over five years with Blue Fountain Media, he was leading marketing at a Fortune 500 company. His work ethic and behavior would be rewarded at any company, and I was lucky to have him.
At the end of the day, you just can't beat keeping your chin up with your nose to the ground. Before you know it, you might have someone else fetching your coffee while you work in that office with a view.